Homelessness in NYC up 115%, 60K homeless in shelter system

Commissioner Steven Banks  of the NYC Department of Social Services. The FilAm Photo

Commissioner Steven Banks of the NYC Department of Social Services. The FilAm Photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

On my way to attend a presentation on the state of homelessness in the city, I got on a train where a homeless man slept by a corner, a sharp, grungy odor pushing straphangers to the opposite end. When the door opened, almost everyone got out and transferred to the next coach.

This is one of those incidents where homelessness becomes a quality-of-life issue that impacts residents and the commuting public.

Homelessness in New York City, according to Commissioner Steven Banks of the Department of Social Services (DSS), is on the rise. It is up 115 percent in the last 20 years. His office has jurisdiction over both the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Homeless Services.

He noted the “tremendous increase in homelessness,” and how the city has yet to “bend the curve” to find a solution.

“We didn’t get into the problem overnight and we won’t get out of the problem overnight,” said Banks, speaking at a briefing organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

He said there were about 24K homeless men, women and children in 1994. The number grew to 31K in 2002 and continued to rise to 51K in 2014. The homeless population in the shelter system as of September 22, 2016 is 59,763 projected to stabilize to 71,425 in 2017 because of prevention and rehousing programs “taking hold.” The largest growth in the homeless population occurred in 2011 after the city ended the Advantage subsidy program to help people move out of the shelter system.

In addition, at least 3,000 more homeless people sleep on the streets and subways, according to The Bowery Mission, a 137-year-old ministry addressing poverty in New York City.

Banks said many of the people are driven to the streets by economic conditions. He also revealed that some homeless families are from out of state. Data showed that 130 families out of about 13,000 have “no connection to the city.”

Banks said homelessness has risen to the level it is today mainly because of economic reasons as when 60 percent of families can’t afford housing because of the gap between rent and income. Currently, homelessness is driven by families (11 percent) being evicted and those fleeing domestic violence (30 percent). He said reports on homeless students and undocumented immigrants are also being addressed.

He said the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has focused on prevention such as helping tenants pay rental arrears or providing legal assistance to those facing eviction. He said the city has streamlined the multiple agencies that address homelessness in patchwork fashion. Homeless people he spoke to have shared how they were being passed around an “alphabet soup of agencies” when they tried to seek assistance.

He said sheltering the homeless in commercial hotels is just one of many solutions. The decision to transform Holiday Inn and Pan-Am hotels in Maspeth, Queens as shelters was proposed by a nonprofit organization following consultations with local officials. There was “proper vetting,” he said.

Shelter, he stressed, is not the only solution.

“Some solutions can be implemented immediately and some solutions take a longer time,” he said.

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